The ordeal of Ashraf Fayadh, a poet of Palestinian origin whose Gazan parents became refugees in Saudi Arabia, began in August 2013 when he was arrested in response to a complaint to the kingdom’s sinister ‘Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.’ Ashraf, a fixture of the Saudi art scene, was alleged to have ‘made obscene comments about God, the Prophet Muhammad, and the Saudi Arabian state,’ according to Pen America’s summary of his case.

Close to three years and countless allegations, hearings, convictions and appeals later – including a death sentence by beheading that was subsequently commuted – Ashraf remains imprisoned and now faces an eight year term and 800 barbaric lashes for the crime of writing poetry about what it is to be human, and a refugee.

Today writers, artists, journalists and bloggers around the world mark a ‘Day of Creativity for Ashraf Fayadh.’ Here is my contribution, a reading of ‘A Melancholy Made of Dough’ from his collection Instructions Within, translated by Tariq al Haydar. The text follows.

A Melancholy Made of Dough

Parts of you pile one on top of another—a mixture of your blood,

sweat, remains, and discharge from your eyes.

And discharge from your eyes.

The knot of your tongue at the midway point of the ocean,

and when the sphere of the sun swims

in a preconceived orbit—


What the sidewalk never mentioned

is that you used to step on it

and present your shoes on a plate of concrete,

your feet on a plate of shoes,

your legs on a plate of your misfortune.

You tune the strings of your head to affect your foolish delight,

you bury a skull—you’d rather not bear.

You heap yourself on a slate that claims whiteness due to a fistful of flour—
and you ferment.

You swell and puff your sadness like a hot loaf

and dry.

You search for your water

Between your delicacy and your hardness

and your breaking.

and your forehead reddens

also, like a loaf!

You are stored

in the chaotic memory

of the earth, of its core

of al-Lauh al-Mahfuz on your shoulders

You grow mold, also, like a loaf!

In vain, you resist your body’s floundering atop the whitened slate

on your bed

on the sidewalks, on

reflecting and reflected surfaces

and surfaces that absorb light.

Your body always forgets that it’s a complex admixture,

that you have only the familiar look of your legs.

That you resemble a vagrant

whose features stick out among those who walk other walks.

He can neither master their walk nor speak their tongue;

has no right to walk as he pleases

or stumble or weep as he pleases.

No right to crack open the window of the soul

to renew its air and debris and mourning.

You forget that you too are

like a loaf!

You forget how your soul was mixed

at birth, since the day they ripped your placenta,

mixed, your soul

with clothes that conceal your genitals

and reveal what may be seen of them. Of you

and of women who have grown accustomed to ripping their own collars

and hanging portraits on walls.

Of boys who have trained themselves to draw on walls

and gravestones and cars in junkyards

and to march in your name, also,

like a loaf!

So your soul was mixed:

homogenized, fermented, kneaded, baked

and sold at stores that violated health codes,

forged—and used for illegal purposes,

voted on— and eaten

like a loaf.